By Lee Horton
Peninsula Daily News
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It seems like only a couple months ago I was phoning football coaches to find out how the first few days of practice went.
In one of those preseason calls, Neah Bay coach Tony McCaulley told me that Taholah had to back out of its Week 1 matchup with the Red Devils.
So, instead, Neah Bay would begin its season against Darrington.
Not only would the Red Devils be playing up a class — Neah Bay is Class 1B, Darrington is 2B — the 8-man football powerhouse would have about a week to prepare for an 11-man game against a team that would go on to spend most of the season in The Associated Press 2B rankings.
Neah Bay destroyed the Loggers 50-6.
That kicked off what would be a banner year for Neah Bay sports, as well as the last stand of what should go down as a legendary senior class.
Led by a core of seniors and the help of a some talented younger players, the football team went on to claim its second state championship in three years, finishing undefeated and winning each game by 18 points or more.
With the help of many of those same seniors, the boys basketball team placed third at the state tournament, which followed a second-place finish the year before.
Led by senior Cierra Moss, the girls basketball team placed sixth at state. For about 18 hours in March, Moss held the tournament record for points in a game. (More on that later.)
In the spring, seniors Josiah Greene and Grayson Porter helped the boys track and field team win league and Bi-District championships, take second at the Quad-District meet and 11th at state.
“It is certainly a year unparalleled for Neah Bay,” Crescent track and field and football coach Darrell Yount said leading up to the state track and field meet late last month.
Of course, these seniors had the help of talented juniors, sophomores, freshmen and in some cases, even eighth-graders, so Neah Bay should still be a force in Class 1B next year and beyond.
But it’s hard to imagine any future graduating class will be able to match the run of success had by the Class of 2014.
So to kick off this year’s edition of the Horties, a celebration of the prep sports season on the North Olympic Peninsula, we salute the seniors of Neah Bay High School.
We also bid a fond farewell to Port Townsend’s nickname, Redskins, and welcome the new moniker, Redhawks.
Redhawks is a fine name, but I’ll admit that the Peninsula Daily News sports staff was rooting for Rip Tide.
I also was dreaming of the headline possibilities for the other finalist, Sasquatch. For instance, “Squatch squash Sequim” (or “Sequim squashes Squatch”).
But, like I said, Redhawks is a fine name.
Before we get to the rest of the awards, don’t forget that if you don’t arrive at this awards show dressed up, then expect to be verbally dressed down on the red carpet.
■ Top team performance — This goes to the Neah Bay football team.
After losing the 2012 state championship to Liberty Christian, a game they probably shouldn’t have lost, nothing was going to stop the Red Devils from winning the title in 2013.
Their staring back field missed most of the regular season and hobble through the playoffs, and quarterback Josiah Greene, a two-time All-Peninsula Football MVP, was slowed by an injury for most of the postseason.
Still, the Red Devils went undefeated and won all but one game by more than 30 points. Only Touchet finished with a deficit less than 30 points (36-18 in the state championship game).
As mentioned above, a group of seniors led this team, but the domination was a team effort. Throughout the season, younger players were plugged into big roles and excelled.
■ Game of the year — Clallam Bay’s Fab Five over the Quilcene Army.
The Clallam Bay’s boys basketball team was down to five players when Quilcene made the trip to the West End in January.
Sure, the Rangers were missing their best player, Jacob Pleines, but the Bruins 51-47 was still amazing and something I was proud to witness.
During pregame warm-ups, Clallam Bay junior Kelly Gregory looked to the other end of the court where the Rangers were warming up and said, “Whoa. There’s a whole army of them.”
But Gregory, Casey Randall, Calvin Ritter, Sam Signor and Brady McKay slowed down the game, shot well and put on a beautiful display of team basketball.
Randall played as smart and poised a high school point guard can, and all five Bruins used the pass to advance the ball and pulled down important rebounds.
Before the game, realizing the odds Clallam Bay was facing, I started to think of the movie “Hoosiers.”
Then, I realized that if you look close enough at Bruins coach Kelly Gregory, he does kind of look like he could be related to Gene Hackman.
Runner-up: Sequim and Bremerton in the de facto Olympic League boys basketball championship game.
This classic went back and forth until Bremerton pulled away in the final minutes.
■ Most surprising team — Port Townsend girls basketball.
The Redskins lost two 6-footers from the previous season’s team, which advanced to the postseason.
So that meant that in addition to being a Class 1A school in a 2A league, Port Townsend seriously lacked height.
However, that didn’t stop the Redskins from equalling their success of 2012-13, and again making a run to the postseason, thereby sending head coach Randy Maag into retirement as a team that he repeatedly said was one of his favorites to coach.
The postseason was even more magical.
Senior Rilke Rutenbeck scored three points in the final minute of a 33-30 win over Charles Wright in a district play-in game.
Then a few days later, Rutenbeck hit a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to give Port Townsend a 31-30 win over Seattle Academy in the Class 1A Tri-District tournament.
Runner-up: Sequim boys basketball. Despite losing star players Jayson Brocklesby and Gabe Carter to graduation, the Wolves again were one of the two best teams in the Olympic League.
■ Top individual performance — Cierra Moss scoring 40 points in the state tournament against Taholah.
Moss actually started slow before blasting off and helping Neah Bay earn a spot in the state trophy round.
Nearly two months later, she was still had a hard time putting that game into words.
“I don’t know . . .” she said. “I felt like I was on fire.”
Moss would finish the season as the highest-scoring girls basketball player in school history.
■ Best example of why Peninsula prep sports are great — When Neah Bay’s boys and girls basketball teams hosted 1B Tri-District tournament games at Port Angeles High School, the stands were full of Red Devils fans, as well as supporters of their opponents, Tulalip Heritage and Lummi.
But that’s not all.
Also at the boys game were players and coaches of Port Angeles’ boys basketball team.
At the girls game were players and coaches from the Port Angeles, Sequim, Quilcene and Clallam Bay girls teams.
Everybody came together to enjoy some postseason basketball.
■ Best example of sportsmanship — The Port Angeles and Sequim softball rivalry.
On the field, this might be the fiercest rivalry on the Peninsula.
Softball is one of the few sports that the two schools both have had league title contenders over the past few years.
So when they meet, pride and championships are on the line.
After their second of three meetings this season — which the Wolves won to clinch a share of the Olympic League title with Port Angeles — both coaches were genuine in their praise of the other team.
“If I’ve got to share it with anybody, I want to share it with them,” Sequim coach Mike McFarlen said of sharing the Olympic League title.
“That’s a good team and a well-coached team.”
Sports Editor Lee Horton can be reached at 360-417-3525 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.